Sweet Potato Casserole. That sweet, sugary dish had been on my mind all day—yet here I stood being told they were out and would I like fries instead?
With the variables that determine the number of students eating in the Mensa constantly changing, dining services cannot correctly forecast the amount of food to prepare each day.
“Sometimes we do run out, and we don’t mean to, but one of our goals is also not to waste food,” said Dr. Margaret Empie, director of student dining.
Meals in the Mensa are on a five week rotation, and food preparation is based on statistics from the last five weeks’ cycle.
The variables that allow food items, such as sweet potato casserole, to run out include if a student’s schedule permits them to eat during Mensa hours, if the meal is favored by the majority of students, and whether or not there will be unexpected guests from various events or visit days.
Although eating in the Mensa can be frustrating, we rarely consider that our meals take hard work and planning.
“It’s all done in the interest of students, I want minimal waste, I want to serve what people like, and I want them to have options so they can eat what they want,” Empie said.
Regardless of its intentions for students, the Mensa is still a business, and it is forced to focus on cost efficiency when planning each meal.
They serve the popular chicken strips, which are more expensive, with chocolate chip pancakes, which are equally popular but less expensive.
It’s all about balancing cost.
Unlike most businesses though, the Mensa is a very transparent one.
“There are not many businesses that have approximately a quarter of their customers working for them,” Empie said.
This transparency allows for positive views of the Mensa to develop within its customer base, primarily by people who work there.
The harsh criticism towards the Mensa would not exist if all students had the chance to work there at some point. As this is impossible, it is important to consider the opinions of those who do.
“Don’t take it [the Mensa] for granted. The kitchen, as well as all of our student workers, work very hard to produce the finest level product that we can. Staff take great pride in what we do. When we hear these negatives it causes us to questions what we’re doing,” Blaine Woodson, student manager in the Mensa kitchen, said.
“It is a very toxic thing in a work environment to constantly be critiquing yourself,” Woodson said.
The value of our meals at the Mensa is not in the control of its hardworking staff, but in ourselves. We have the option to use what we have, or constantly gripe about what we don’t.
Maybe the Mensa doesn’t always serve the finest meals, but with some understanding, I think we can all conclude that the kitchen and Mensa employees do exactly what we do every day: the best they can with the resources they have.